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Burglary in Sri Lanka: Experiencing Theft While on The Road

Burglary in Sri Lanka: Experiencing Theft While on The Road
Sri Lankan Police Officers Handling The Paperwork and Questioning Suspects

I've been moving around the world for 17 years and experienced my first serious burglary two weeks ago. It happened in Sri Lanka. They stole money. I lived in a gated, nice-looking, CCTV-protected place. I thought I was safe. I felt disturbed and violated. Someone invaded my private space and went through my belongings.

This post is for the therapeutic dumping of thoughts and feelings. A secondary purpose is to warn nomads and travelers about potential safety issues in Sri Lanka.

This experience pretty much adds to "The Ugly” in my recent article about life as a digital nomad in Sri Lanka. I’ve mentioned crazy buses and female harassment issues. Burglaries complement the list perfectly.

So what happened?

I’ll confess. I was sloppy. I withdrew pocket money from the ATM and kept it in a drawer in my studio. I didn’t leave it out in the open though. The stack of 5,000 rupee bills was buried under paperwork. The burglar found it while going through the drawers. It would have been safer to carry all the money or keep it in a locked micro-safe, but it was more convenient to grab a bill from the drawer.

I woke up at 5AM on a Saturday morning. It was a deep ocean fishing day. I was excited as heck! Did my morning routine, packed the waterproof bag, and reached out to grab 30k to have money for the boat. The money wasn’t there! A quick check through the drawer. Nope, definitely no money here. Uggghhh…

I grabbed the credit card and went to the fishing adventure meeting point. While driving, I was thinking if I could have put money elsewhere. Maybe just run through the 100k I withdrew in just a week? Nonsense. I clearly remembered barely touching the pile the last few days and was too lazy to move it anywhere anyway.

The day out in the ocean was great. We didn’t catch big tuna, but had some fun catch on the reef. I did manage to snatch this grouper? It was pretty fun.

Ocean fishing with a little catch

Catch of the day from the reefs nearby Mirrisa, Sri Lanka

After returning to shore, the boys and I had lunch. Everyone was starving and exhausted. The ocean takes a lot of energy. I shared the money story with the group. “Oh fuck, that sucks man”. Yup… I know.

While driving back home, I was considering what’s the right thing to do. I didn’t want to waste time filing police reports. I just knew it would be a drag and would waste a day of my time. It’s not worth the 150 EUR, by my estimates, the burglars have taken.

But who could have stolen the money? What should I do?

I live in a gated place. I always keep my key and lock my doors. There are rarely any new people entering unless there is a guest rotation. Most people were tourists leaving early morning for the beach or whatever, and very unlikely to go for all the trouble stealing the money. The only individuals who entered my place were two cleaners the day before. It took them an hour to clean and change the sheets, which I found weird for a small space. My gut told me one or both did something sketchy.

I arrived at my place and saw one of the cleaning guys at the property cleaning the pool. I went straight at him. Locked eyes. Closed the distance. Arm-length away.
— Hey. You cleaned my place last night?

— Yes, sir.

— My money is missing. Did you take it?

His eyes widen. He looks away.

— No-no-no, sir.

— Did you take the money? It’s ok if we find it in the next 10 minutes and there will be no trouble.

— No, sir. I will inform my boss.

Shit. This is bizarre. Ok, let’s tell the landlord the money's missing. I doubt I’ll get any back. Let's play the lowest-effort game. Maybe they'll come around somehow.

I went back into my place. Checked the drawer again. Well, time to take a nap and forget about this. It's not worth my energy.

I napped for an hour and was still extremely tired. Went out for dinner to my favorite Mama’s restaurant.

Grabbed the buffet plate and smashed loads of dal and ladyfingers onto my plate. Climbed up all the way to the top floor and saw a friend who used to be my neighbor. We chatted while devouring the delicious food. I told her about the money.

— Or really? I had 70 EUR gone missing while living there about two weeks ago.

— Say what?!

— Yeah, I had it in my purse. It was a random cash I had received from a friend. I was heading back to Portugal anyway, so kept it handy. But then it disappeared. I thought I was just clumsy and it fell out somewhere.

— Well. It may have fallen out in your apartment. You didn’t carry it around much, eh?

— True. Nevermind. I just didn’t think it was worth my time to do anything about it. Sucks... But got over it pretty fast.

We had two cases in the same place within a couple weeks. The situation is definitely looking sketchy. I said I’ll go by the police station on the way the next day, who knows might be good to at least spook the thieves. It might be good for the community too.

The next morning, I went surfing early in the day and was going about my morning routines after the session. Went downstairs to refill my water bottle and saw an incredible scene. Three police officers dressed officially, three russian girls, and the property staff were gathered around the dinner table. Commotion in the house!

The police officers were busy filling out documents. I went straight to the property manager.

— Hey. What’s all this about. What’s happening?

— Our guests have a problem, sir.

— I see that. Why are there police? What kind of problem?

— Our guests have a problem, sir. Nothing related to you

What kind of bullshit is this? Just tell me what’s up. OK! I’ll talk to the russians:

— Hey. What happened?

— A lot of money got stolen from us. We lived here last week and moved out yesterday. We were unpacking in the new hotel and saw it was missing from the suitcase

— Oh interesting. I had my money stolen too. How much did they take?

— No way! It was 800 EUR I had with me for the vacation.

— Wow. They took around 150 EUR from me. And another friend lost 70 EUR from the room upstairs.

— No way!

I go back to the property manager.

— Nothing related to me, huh? You know well I reported money missing too. How is that not related to me?

— No sir, this is our guest's problem. Your problem is your problem.

Ok. Broken record here. I better save my sanity and talk to the officers. One of them was observing my conversations.

— Hello officer. I had my money stolen too. Did you witness my conversation with this guy?

— Yes, I was listening.

— Do you hear the “Nothing related to you”? The case sounds very related to me.

— Yes indeed.

— Can you please note this in your report? I would like to file my case here.

— Sure. Just give us a moment.

I sat down at the table. The property staff looked tense. The three russian girls were in a good mood and celebrated they were not alone in this situation. Police officers were writing and watching cricket on their phones in the background.

Police Officers and Villa's Staff looking all concerned

I filed my report and outlined what happened. The police were already in the house, so at least I didn’t have to go to the station for the trouble.

After I finished writing, the villa owner showed up. He informed the police that the CCTV cameras were turned off and there was nothing to see there. I confronted him with the “Nothing related to you” situation. The chat finished with: “Talk to the police. I don’t want to talk to you directly.”

A cop checked my place and the empty drawer. No money there, eh? :) No fingerprints were taken. It was obvious it would be my prints and cleaners, as no one else entered.

Nothing else to do here, so I went about my day feeling liberated. My duty was done. I don’t know if there would be any outcome, but at least I finished what I could control.

The next day I received a call from the police officer. He asked to come to the police station. Damn, I thought this was over 😅 Okay. I’ve never been to a Sri Lankan police station. Might be cool to check it out.

I wasn't disappointed. The vibe of the police station was something else. Look at these shots!

Police Station Lobby in Ahangama, Sri Lanka

The officer who called me saw me in the main hall and waved to me. We had a chat. I felt listened to and answered a few questions. One of them was:
— Who do you suspect in this situation?
— After how they handled the situation at the table, the answer was pretty clear to me. Everyone from the cleaners to the property owner seems to be involved in this. They did not cooperate yesterday, turned off the CCTV, and they're the only ones with keys to my place.

The officer nodded:
— Yes, they all look suspicious.

We chatted and I left.

That’s it. The end. Abrupt, eh? The police haven’t called back. No follow-up messages. Don’t know the protocols here, but I'd expect some timelines or an update after two weeks.


Since the events, I have moved to a much safer place. The worst part of this experience was that it took me about a week to get back on track with life. Looking for housing on short notice isn’t fun and is just the kind of stress you want to avoid on top of feeling invaded. I have not heard from anybody ever since. I don’t know and I don’t care if anything happened with the case. Just wanted to write this note to clear my thoughts and feelings.

My lesson from this experience is to adjust my vigilance while in Sri Lanka. I will get a portable, travel-friendly safe like Pacsafe if I come back here in the future.

Hopefully, it serves as a cautionary tale to the reader. Stay safe!